I could not be happier to welcome Readdle as a new sponsor of the iPhone JD. I’ve been using their iPhone and iPad apps for as long as I can remember, and they’ve created and improved some of the very best productivity apps. For example, I can trust the apps that I consider essential to my law practice, and PDF Expert is undoubtedly on that list. Every lawyer works with PDF files, and PDF Expert is a great tool for working with PDF files in a law practice. The app itself is free, plus you get access to advanced features if you buy a $ 50 / year subscription ̵
PDF Expert does an excellent job of viewing PDF files. In fact, especially for large files, I find that PDF Expert on iPad Pro is faster and better than even the PDF software I use on the PC in my office.
The pages load quickly, and you can quickly go back and forth between the pages. Swipe up and down to read a document in standard vertical scroll mode. You can tap the thumbnail icon at the top left to see an overview of all the pages, making it quick to find your way through a very long document.
Normally a menu bar appears at the top of the screen, but you can tap the center of the screen to make the menu bar disappear, which means that the entire screen is devoted to your document. An indicator at the bottom right shows you which page number you see in the document, although you can turn it off in the app settings or choose to make it appear and disappear automatically.
If you tap the display settings icon at the top right, you can switch to a horizontal scroll mode. I find this mode useful when I go through the final draft of a document before submitting it to a court. It allows me to focus on each page, one at a time, to make sure everything looks right. Two-page mode is also a great way to quickly review your entire document at a higher level.
There is also a crop mode switch that you can use on documents that have been OCR, so you can hide the margins so that it is easier to make the text part of the document larger and easier to read.
To quickly scroll through a document, grab the small tab on the right and move it up and down. In an earlier version of PDF Expert, the app used a small gray rectangle that was harder to grasp, but in the current version it is easy to use.
I often need to find the part of a document that mentions a particular word. If you tap the magnification icon at the top right, you can enter words to search for, or you can view your recent searches and tap one of them to do the same search again. This is fast and works very well.
Each time you open a PDF file, it opens in a new tab. That way, you can work with multiple PDF files at once, and just tap another tab to jump back and forth between different documents. PDF Expert also has full support for multitasking if you want to run two apps side by side.
When working with longer documents – such a volume of an entry for an appeal – I find it useful to use the bookmark function, available by clicking on the Bookmark icon at the top right. For example, I want to place bookmarks to mark the first page of the most important documents in the record, so that I can quickly jump to the specific parts of the volume in the future.
Clicking on the bookmark icon gives you access to two other useful features. First is the Outlines tab. Although you can add your own outlines to a document if you want, the most important way I think this feature is valuable is to take advantage of an outline that is already contained in a document. For example, when federal district courts create the appeal record in a case, each volume of the record contains an overview that corresponds to the document number. So if I know from the index that I want to jump to Document 172, I can just access the outline and jump right there.
The other feature you can access in this area is the Comments tab, but before I discuss that tab, let’s talk about commenting on documents.
Comment on documents
At the top center of the toolbar are tabs you can tap to see different commenting tools. For example, the first category “Annotate” includes tools for marking, underlining, writing, drawing shapes, adding comments, and so on.
Tap a specific tool to use it. If you have an Apple Pencil 2, you can double-click Pencil to turn a specific tool on and off, making it quick and easy to switch between scrolling through a document and then selecting a sentence or adding another comment.
After making a comment, and when you have no specific tool turned on, you can tap the comment to change it. For example, you can change the ink color of something you wrote, make pen ink thicker, change the opacity, delete the comment, and so on.
Let’s go back to the Comments tab on the right side that I mentioned above. This view shows you to the right every single comment that you have a document, which makes it quick to jump to a specific part of the document you commented on. For some annotations, such as highlighting or underlining text, you can see the words you used the comment for, which is useful. If you handwritten something, you only see a pen icon to show that you did it on a certain page.
In 2019, Readdle updated PDF Expert to add a feature that greatly enhances the experience of commenting on a document: the ability to customize the toolbar. You have to pay for a subscription to use this feature, but I would do so even if this was the only feature that came with a subscription. Creating a custom toolbar means you can select the specific tools you like best and place them in an order that makes the most sense to you, to maximize your productivity when commenting on documents.
I currently have my tools set up so that the first three tools are fine pointed buckles (black, blue, red) with 1 point thickness. So, as a delimiter, I have the highlight tool – which may be the tool I use the most. Then I have five medium-sized pens with a thickness of 1.5 points for when I want my comment to be a little bolder, and I have five different colors: black, blue, red, green and purple. Toolbars in other PDF apps usually give you only two or three colors by default; to access more colors, you have to dig into submenus, which require extra steps, so I normally just skip it. But because I could create my own favorite print with the tools I chose, all five pen colors are just a tap away, so I can more easily use different colors to mean different things in my documents, making my comments more valuable to me.
When sharing a file, you can choose to share the original document (with comments that can be further edited) or a flat copy (which means that the comments cannot be easily edited by anyone else, and the comments are virtually guaranteed to be viewed no matter which PDF program someone else uses to view the document).
While viewing and editing documents is crucial, the file management feature is also an important reason why PDF Expert is so useful for law practice. I carry around thousands of documents on my iPad so everything I need is there.
A sidebar menu on the left shows sources of documents on your iPad, such as synced folders or local documents. Recently opened files are just a tap away. A list of connections gives access to cloud sources such as Apple’s embedded files app, Dropbox, Box and Google Drive.
At the bottom of the sidebar menu, you can view folders or files that you have marked as favorites. When there is an issue that I work actively and a lot on – for example an appeal that I will work on in the coming months – I will usually make the folder associated with the project a favorite so that I can get to my work faster.
In the main part of the screen on the right you will see a list of folders and files. Tap the three dots at the end of a row to see a menu of options such as move, rename, duplicate, slide, etc. You can apply a color to a folder if you want it to stand out more.
If you hold your finger on a file name for a second, you can drag and drop that file to another location. Whether you use drag and drop or just scroll through your folders, you can long press the Back button at the top left to see all previous subfolders, making it faster to jump to the specific folder you want.
While these are the most useful parts of the app for me, there are many other features. You can zip and extract files. You can view file types other than PDF files, although you can not comment on other file types, such as Microsoft Word files. You can fill out PDF forms. I mentioned above that you can search a document, but you can also search the content or file names across all your documents.
The app itself is free, and for many lawyers, the free version will give you everything you need. But if you upgrade to a PRO subscription, which costs $ 50 / year, you get a lot more. I have already mentioned the custom toolbar function, which I use every single day. That feature alone makes the experience of using this app much better. In addition, a subscription also gives you the opportunity to:
- Sign documents
- Merge PDF files
- Add, delete and extract pages from PDF files
- Password protect PDF files
- Edit text in a PDF file (either with black bars or to make the text disappear)
- Edit PDF text
- Edit PDF images
- Add links to PDF files
- Convert Word files, Excel files and images to PDF files
- Reduce the PDF file size by selecting one of four different document quality settings
All of these can be useful, but I think the options for merging PDF files and adding / deleting / extracting pages from PDF files are especially useful in my law practice. For example, I would pull out pages to create exhibits. The option to reduce the file size can be useful when a file would otherwise be too large to attach to an email, although how well it works depends on the details of the file you are working on. I do not use the other features very much, but it is nice that they are there. For example, when I need to convert a Microsoft Word file to PDF, I usually just use Word myself to do it.
Although I have written about PDF Expert several times before (for example 2/21/19, 8/27/19, 21/11/19), I appreciate Readdle sponsoring the iPhone JD this month for giving me an apology to talk about this important app again, including some of the recent improvements. If you use an iPad, there is no excuse for not having the free version of this app on your iPad. Start using it in law practice and see what you think. If you think the app is as invaluable as me, you will probably want to subscribe to the PRO version, as I did last year, to take advantage of all that the app has to offer.
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